Thursday, May 31, 2007

This may, or may not, be the final blog of this initial Nica experience. We'll see how the next week goes. As it is, we're scheduled to leave Managua on Fri. June 8, spend a few days on an island near Seattle visiting an old friend, then continuing on to Anchorage on the 11th. Depending on how things go with repairing the car, we should be back in Homer by the end of the week.

Although there are many reasons we are sad to be leaving, even temporarily, a new development has rendered us nearly paralytic in our desire to stay: we've adopted a baby duck. What happened was, I went along with Pat on one of his many chain sawing wood for the neighbors adventures, and as there was quite a lot of wood at this particular house (belonging to Walter, the young fisherman of a much earlier blog, and shared by two brothers, a grandmother, two wives, and at least four young children, including our buddy Donald), I was given one of the ubiquitous plastic stacking chairs to sit in and then one of the women came out holding this tiny duckling. Apparently its mother had been sold off too early and its egg was rammed under a hen until it hatched—at which point the hen noticed this chick was a bit odd looking and began to peck it to death. The kids saved it, just a few hours before we showed up, but the adults were ready to just let nature take its course—the duckling would make it, or not, without human interference. So they give the duckling to me to hold and somehow it ends up snuggled into my collarbone where it stays for the next couple hours until Pat's done. When I tried to give it back, it peeped as though its wee heart were breaking, so they told me it was mine to keep if I wanted it. Well if you've ever had the chance to hold a ducking, then you know I could no sooner have given it up than chopped off my left hand, and so the duckling came to be ours. Within hours it was running our lives, with us besotted, doing anything to keep it happy. We named it Einstein, mainly to amuse our friends who aside from not tending to name barnyard animals, certainly do not name them after world famous physicists. Reyna and Edwin have offered to take it in after we go, with Reyna attempting to assuage my remorse at abandoning him by assuring me that by the time we get back, he'll be big and probably ugly, and certainly ready to eat…Meanwhile, he sleeps with us at night for the warmth, and spend most of his days, when not splashing about in his little pool and eating, nestled in a bandana around one of our necks. Yes, there are pictures.

As far as the house goes, we're not quite as far along as we'd initially hoped…but at least the place is secure, and we managed to get a couple of the rooms painted. The final thing was to lay the floor tiles, but it turns out that the only place in SW Nicaragua to sell quality Saltillo (Mexican terracotta pavers) style tiles needs a month+ to prepare them (silly us, thinking we'd just go to the tile store and buy them), so we'll just order them and have them ready when we get back in September.

It has started to rain a bit, seldom for very long, and generally at the most inconvenient times, such as three minutes after I leave the house on my bike. As a precaution, I've taken to stuffing plastic grocery bags under my bike seat so at least I can keep things that prefer not to be rained on dry. And when the sun returns, usually within half an hour, you dry out very quickly. The other thing about the rain is, it makes Nica drivers, many of whom are what you might call, euphemistically, if you happened to be, say, Scottish, "fucking head cases", even worse. This is partly due to the fact that people here, for economic reasons, tend to keep their tires until they are smooth enough to drag a baby across, resulting in an insane amount of skidding, and partly the result of a disturbing lack of windshield wipers. Or, as I saw the other day, what appeared to be a pair of ragged socks attached to the wiper holders with bits of string. We now ride about in a heightened state of alertness, and so far have managed to avoid any unpleasant collisions.

As I write, there is yet another Evangelist sing-a-long taking place a few houses away. They have a large speaker set up in the street, and about 25 people are seated on blue plastic chairs facing a small stage. The preaching part seems to be over, and they have moved on to the yowling. I am quite sure tone deafness is a prerequisite to joining an Evangelist church here. There can be no other explanation for the eye-crossingly painful renditions of what might be, if emitted from other mouths, tolerable ballads. Of course there is a limit to what can be done with such soul-shaking lyrics as, "If you know Jesus, you know he's glorious", etc. Pat is lying in the hammock, ear plugs in, moaning softly for me to just kill him now to make it all stop. Although we will miss many things when we head back north, this is most definitely not one of them.

As a treat for our ever-growing crowd of beach kids, we decided to pile them into the truck, and along with Edwin's family, take everyone to a recently opened aquatic center in Potosi, about 15 minutes north of Buenos Aires. We arrived, four adults and thirteen children between two and fourteen, to find the place in the process of cleaning the pools (there are four of varying sizes and depths). Back into the truck to head to an older place with just one pool, where we were so horrified by the color and texture (yes, texture) of the water we tripped over one another getting back in the vehicle. By now the sky had clouded over and everyone was starving, so we decided to table the swimming idea and just headed to our favorite near-the-beach restaurant. We figured, correctly, that none of these kids had ever eaten in a restaurant before. We sat outside at little tropical tables, trying to ignore the amazing swarms of 'zayulies', tiny transparent gnat-like insects. The little bastards are completely harmless, but they appear near the beach occasionally in such colossal numbers and then just fly about for a while before dying in droves, ideally in your food or drink. The slightest puff of wind is enough to send them swirling away, and fortunately along with the darkening sky came some serious gusts, sparing us a total invasion. The kids were very excited, and a bit awed by everything. I ordered enough food for everyone, and the lovely waiter arranged for every kid to get his or her own plate individually served. Before and after the food, they played on the swing set and slide, also a new experience for most of them. (Rosita got to show off a bit here, as neither restaurants nor playground equipment are novelties to her.) We promised to try for the pools another day, but all in all, feeling like characters out of "Cheaper by the Dozen", we had a great time. And to feed all those hungry mouths, including full meals for the adults, with sodas and juices, and for Edwin and me, a couple beers, the bill came to $42 with tip, well worth every cordoba.

Yesterday may have set us on a new path here in Nicaragua: that of plantain farmers. We went with Edwin, his (Managua) brother Rei, his cousin Mario, and several nephews, to harvest a crop. They were at first very concerned, if not downright disturbed, by the idea of a woman joining in this typically male-dominated venture, but Edwin is by now used to my assumption that women are capable of doing any work men do, and I think by the end, the others were forced to agree. Their concern was not altogether misplaced however--this is hard work! You must first whack down the heavy cluster of platanos, then chop the tree down at about waist level. The bunches of fruit must then be hauled to the end of the row to await sorting and loading onto the truck, while the top half of the trees must be dragged out of the main path. We only did one section of around two acres or less, working for under two hours, but man, we were beat. The sun didn't help, nor the heat and humidity. And it's exceedingly dirty work as well, so everyone who makes a habit of this sort of thing has a set of clothes they use only for harvesting platanos. Pat of course took to it immediately. I was somewhat less enthused, eventually telling Edwin I definitely preferred working with salmon. Nevertheless, we are now talking seriously with Edwin and Rei about a possible future investment with them, perhaps forming a sort of cooperative. Vamos a ver…

Oh, and for the record, my throat is just fine, negative biopsy result, no worries.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

May 5, 07

After two & a half weeks of smoothly paved roads (well, other than some sections of Queens), hot showers, and the glorious absence of ants, I'm back in Nicaragua. Man, I really missed it! The day after I got back I went to see a dermatologist in Managua about a small but relatively new mole on my throat. He peered at it intently and then announced it would be a good idea to remove it for a biopsy (everyone's favorite word). So right then and there he had me up on the table, jabbed some anesthetic into my neck, and began cutting. I can't really say it hurt, but it was an odd sensation. I asked if I'd have a scar, to which he replied, "Do you want one?" "Why not?" I said. "It would be 'salvaje' (really cool)." It was all over in about half an hour. I go back in a week to have the stitches out, but it'll be two weeks before the biopsy results are back. Since he didn't appear unduly concerned, I've elected not to be either.

The trip back to Buenos Aires went well until we were about 40 minutes north of town and the truck (Pat had borrowed Edwin's pickup) ceased moving forward. It was around 7pm, just after dark. We coasted onto the shoulder and Pat got out to look under the hood. I think we probably had the hood up for at least twenty minutes and while dozens of vehicles passed us, not one stopped. Coming from Alaska where it's more unusual if someone doesn't stop, this was a bit disturbing. When I told Reyna about it later (we called Edwin and he borrowed another truck and arrived in about an hour with the cavalry: Reyna, the girls, and Emer, the boy next door), she said it was because everyone knew that was the most common ruse for highway robbery—you pull over to help someone supposedly in need and hey presto, they steal your car and everything else. She went on to say we were lucky no one noticed we were Gringos or the situation might have become dire… We eventually had to tow the truck back, and should know in a few days what the problem is and how many appendages will be required to fix it. (Update: quite a few things, apparently, need replacing, to the tune of $600. Edwin says that's pretty much all parts; the labor should come in around $50…)

On my second day home we rode our bikes out to see the house—with all the windows and the door installed. The work was done a few days before I returned, and Pat had told me I would like it. He was wrong. I love it. The wood is so gorgeous, rich and heavy, full of texture and patterns. The door, which I'd just done a rough (very rough) sketch of, came out even better than I'd imagined. It's a 'Dutch door", allowing us to open it all the way or just the bottom half. All we need now is the hardware—locks, door handle, and a system for raising the lower half of the living room windows, and we're set.

A couple days on and we were back out there scrubbing the walls of several years' accumulation of mold, mildew, and the remnants of insects birthing habitats. This would've been fairly grueling work were we not assisted by no less than nine neighborhood kids, ranging in age from three to thirteen. The three year old accomplished much by running between our legs imitating some sort of spastic cicada until I gently (OK, not so gently) lifted him by an arm and ankle and helped him fly outside. Unfortunately he enjoyed this action and pestered me for a repeat until I was forced to use the ultimate threat, "Ask me once more and you are banned from the property for a whole day." Very effective when your house is THE place to be. By the mid-afternoon the place was looking paint-ready, so we handed out the wages and headed to town for more supplies.

Did I mention already that Reyna & Edwin purchased a piglet? Probably not as I only just learned about it prior to my trip, although it turned out they had already had it for a couple weeks. (It was actually Pat who discovered the wee beastie in a pen behind their house.) When I confronted Reyna, "I hear you have a chanchito (piglet)", she said, with a remarkably straight face, "No we don't." "But Pat saw it! It's just over there, in a pen." "Oh, that pig. Well, yes, we have that pig." "Why didn't you tell me? I love piglets. He's so cute, and…" "Ok, this is exactly why I didn't tell you about the pig, because I knew you'd react like this and the fact is we bought the pig for Milagro's belated christening in June. We're going to eat the pig. I don't want you getting attached to the main course." (I may be paraphrasing a bit in the translation, but this is damn close to accurate, and a bit disconcerting that she has me sussed in so short a time…) I pouted for a few minutes before determining that this party won't occur until after we're gone, thus sparing me having to partake of the pig, and therefore allowing me to fraternize with it more or less guilt-free. And in fact, here it is several weeks later, the chanchito has grown a bit, and has the run of the place, and now Pat has grown very fond of it, convinced it is a "special" pig and has gone so far as to offer to buy its freedom in exchange for another, less intriguing swine. Since Edwin and Reyna assumed he was joking, we haven't gotten an answer yet. I will photograph Pig tomorrow (our one concession to E & R: we haven't named the critter. Yet.)

I think we must be really starved for animal love because in addition to courting Pig, we've also been assiduously wooing three teenaged chickens from across the street. Chickens here have the run of the country until their owners decide it's time for soup, and often wander into neighboring yards in search of grub. These three, Thelma (my favorite), Louise, and Buddy, actually come when called and will eat whatever goodies we toss down mere inches from our feet. Thelma, whom I like to believe recognizes our growing bond, will eat her fill (she prefers my overpriced American-style granola), then drop into roost position next to my rocking chair on the porch and remain there, seemingly contented, for ages. She kind of looks like a chicken version of our deceased cat Nitza, which may account for the warm fuzzy feelings she brings out in me.

On a final note about local fauna, last night were forced to euthanize the poor rat (the cute kind) that found itself caught in Reinaldo's evil snap trap. He reset it later, but we sprang it, and this morning I found another wee beastie in the more humane cage trap. Reinaldo had gone to have breakfast, so Pat grabbed the trap and released the rat into the yard on its own recogniscence and a vow to hunt in someone else's kitchen. It would be much easier if Reinaldo would just consent to a cat…